Faith and Life

Offering It Up

Over the last couple of days, I have heard repeated mentions of the word ‘sacrifice’ – on the radio, in print, and online. So much so that it had left me thinking about what constitutes ‘sacrifice’ in our day and age, and wondering how on earth we can offer ‘sacrifice’ at the personal level, as well as what value – if any – it has.

Each of those mentions I came across was referring to sacrifice in an explicitly religious sense. One article, discussing the nature of priesthood, began by examining the meaning of the word ‘sacrifice’ from the original words in Hebrew whose inclusion in the original Biblical texts translated as “to slaughter for sacrifice” and “to offer by burning”. The author of the article pointed out the distinctly negative sense of the use of those words. But she went on to speak about the etymology of the actual word ‘sacrifice’ itself – noting that this was comprised of two Latin words. There were “sacer”, meaning ‘holy’, and “facere”, meaning ‘to make’. To ‘sacrifice’ in this sense, then, means ‘to make holy’.

If we take this meaning of ‘to make holy’, how do we do this? It is done by offering something to God. We can se this when an item is blessed by a priest – it is, in some sense, given to God and this makes us consider that item to be holy; think of the Rosary in your pocket or the Crucifix hanging on the wall of your home, or the statue of the Sacred Heart or the Blessed Virgin before which you offer prayer. But these are items – they are perhaps better thought of as ‘consecrated’ and in this way given to God, rather than properly ‘sacrificed’. And yet they are in some way ‘sacrificed’, given up by us for a holy use with God as their object.

But what of other things? What can we, as individual human beings, offer up to God and in this way ‘sacrifice’ them in some sense and so make them – and perhaps even ourselves – holy?

We often have a view that sacrifice involves something great – and while that may be the case, it is not necessarily so. What matters more is not so much what we do, but the love with which they do them; a smaller thing done with great love has more value that a great thing done without love, or done for the wrong reasons.

When it comes to authentic holiness, the Saints are always our exemplars. So let’s have a look at two such Saints. And so there can be no question that ‘sacrifice’ – and, indeed, holiness – is possible for anyone, no matter their state in life, I will take two child Saints – St Jacinta Marto and her brother St Francisco Marto, two of the children to whom Our Blessed Lady appeared at Fatima in 1917.

Prior to the appearances of the Mother of God, an Angel appeared to the three children of Fatima. This Angel taught them to pray and gave them specific prayers with which to pray. He prepared them for the coming of the Blessed Virgin the following year by ‘training’ them in holiness. His words to the children have a resonance for us, too –

Pray! Pray very much! The most holy Hearts of Jesus and Mary have designs of mercy on you. Offer prayers and sacrifices constantly to the Most High. Make of everything you can a sacrifice, and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended, and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.

And this is just what the children did – they found ingenious ways to turn so many different things into a sacrifice, to be offered to God for the intentions the Angel had given them. In this way, the children truly made all those little actions holy – and in the process, the grace of God made them holy also.

The particular things St Jacinta and St Francisco did in a sacrificial way were very little things in the grand scheme of things, but they had great merit and value. They would deny themselves water when thirsty; or give away food to less fortunate children while hungry themselves; they would pray often and at some length, conscious of the need to make reparation to God for sin. All of these particular things, and the many others they undertook, had one single purpose at their heart – a forgetfulness of self and their own desires, in the cause of something far greater, the love of God and the wish to make Him loved.

How on earth can such a little thing achieve this lofty goal?

The answer is the same as it often is in life – love transforms something entirely. Think of it this way. You have someone who has stolen your heart and because of this, you wish to please them in every way possible. You offer them little gifts and trinkets, things which may not possess much themselves in the way of intrinsic value, but whose offering – done from a motive of pure love – gives them a luminous, transformative quality which is not lost on the recipient of those little gifts. So it is with God.

God sees the motive with which we perform an action, whether great or small – and note well, it is not the action itself, but the motive with which it is undertaken. And God, who is never outdone in generosity, gives something back – not as though it were some sort of transaction, but from a motive of love which is infinitely purer than our own. What God gives us – or those for whom we are praying – is merciful grace; that is, His action within our lives and within our world, a merciful grace which transforms us and our world and which works powerfully in our human history. We see something similar in the Book of Genesis, where Abraham pleads for a city, asking God to spare it for the sake of even ten good men who pray to God. For the sake of such good men, God relents and is merciful.

It is no different with us. Within our own hidden lives in this world, we too can be one of those ‘just’ men, those everyday saints, who do whatever we can to offer sacrifice to God on behalf of ourselves, those we love and the world more broadly.

We will do this primarily through the act of prayer itself, offered persistently and with deep humility, fully aware of the frailty and poverty of the heart from which that prayer arises – but fully aware, too, of the infinite mercy of the Heart to which that prayer is directed by us. Such prayer is an acknowledgment of our need for God, of His love for us and of our duty to love Him in return and to make Him loved.

We do it also through all the little sacrifices of our daily lives, each one an opportunity to advance in holiness through forgetfulness of self and the ablation of our personal ego; and in this manner, we go some way further along the path of holiness, answering that ‘universal call to holiness’ of which the Council Fathers spoke at the Second Vatican Council.

In my experience, we generally don’t need to worry too much about going looking for ways to make those little sacrifices – they have a way of presenting themselves to us, if only we have the eyes to see them for what they are. We used to call this “offering it up”. All those little stressors and anxieties of daily life, all those things we would love to do but cannot, all the things we have to give up for the sake of someone else – all of this can be offered up as a small sacrifice. Examples of this might be doing the dishes when we do not wish to; eating our food without salt or pepper; doing someone a small act of kindness through word or deed, when they cannot repay us; keeping silent rather than constantly talking. It might be accepting an illness with equanimity rather than pleading for healing, looking for the grace in this; this is not to say we should not ask for healing, but it is to say that we should leave it to the Lord, who will give us that which can do us the greater good as He judges it, and to accept His will in all things.

These are all very little things, none of which will kill us and which, by their very nature, will remain hidden and known only to the Lord, which is as it ought to be. And yet, all of them noticed but eh Lord who is the sources of that infinite ocean of merciful grace, that grace and mercy of which we ourselves, and our world in general, stand so greatly in need.

 

Catholic | Retired Nurse | UK

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